One of the most frequent questions I heard back in my LSAT teaching days was, "How many schools should I apply to?" Obviously, you'll want a safety school or two. And if you've ever dreamed of attending a specific school, you should add that to the list as well. But what is the sweet spot?
The answer, like many questions in law, is "it depends."
According to Law School Numbers, the average student applies to six schools. That's not nearly enough. With the realities of the post-grad job market, you'll want to pay as little for law school as possible. Your best shot at getting scholarships comes from applying to as many schools as possible and leveraging offers to negotiate more financial assistance.
Beyond scholarships, the number of applications you send should depend on which camp of applicants you belong to:
Low GPA, Low LSAT
If both your GPA and your LSAT are uncompetitive, applying to law school now is akin to facing down a tank with a butter knife. Those of you with barely-graduated GPAs and below-median (151) LSATs should consider re-taking the LSAT or choosing a different career path.
The fact is that the job market is bad for all graduates. If you get into a school, it'll likely be a fourth-tier school with a high washout rate and a low bar passage rate. You may beat the odds, but even if you do, you'll graduate with a massive load of debt and pitiful job prospects.
Splitters and Nontraditional Applicants
You are in the odd, unpredictable camp. Perhaps you had a low GPA, but nailed the LSAT. Maybe you worked for a decade or two, and now you've "matured" beyond your low GPA days. Or perhaps you killed it in class, graduated magna cum laude, and then, despite your best efforts and multiple attempts, could not perform well on the LSAT.
With one bad number, and one good number, your admissions prospects are unpredictable. You need to apply to a ton of law schools, as some schools will prioritize one factor over the other. You might even get lucky and be offered a scholarship by a mid-tier school based on your one good number.
High GPA, High LSAT
We'd still recommend applying to a lot of schools, but with high numbers, you can probably get away with fewer applications than the other groups. Definitely apply to safety schools, 50/50s, and reach schools, as the more applications you send out, the more likely you are to go to school gratis. Even top-tier schools have mediocre job prospects, so the less you pay, the better.
No matter which camp you fall into, finances are probably a consideration. Application costs add up quick, even if you pursue fee waivers and free applications, as the LSAC will charge $160, plus a $25 bounty per school, to pass along your transcripts, credentials, and letters of recommendation.
This is one of those times where "penny wise and pound foolish" rings true. Don't cut your application list short because of financial considerations. A few hundred more dollars in applications now could mean a few thousand dollars in scholarships, or better job prospects, down the line.
- Law School Application Reductions, Last Minute Scholarships (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- LSAC Numbers: Fewer Applicants, Fewer Applications, Less Demand (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- The Legal Job Market Isn't Dead; It's Just ... Delayed? (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)